Apology and Toilet Training

A recent report on NPR described some specious research that suggested that apologizing doesn’t make the offender feel better. That refusing to apologize can actually feel good.
That may be so, but only in the most self-defeating, anal-retentive kind of way.Want to feel better? Apologize.
Want to feel better? Apologize.
What does Feeling Good Have to Do With It?
Yes, refusing to apologize confers a certain kind of power and that can feel good.  Toddlers across the ages have figured out that refusing to control their bowel movements also confers a certain kind of power and can feel good. But there’s no future in it. The only legitimate course when you’re wrong is to apologize. It may or may not feel good in the moment, but apology yields the greatest good. Progress is made one apology at a time.
So let’s take a quick look at this constipated research.
In a recent paper, researchers Tyler G. Okimoto, Michael Wenzel and Kyli Hedrick reported that apologizing doesn’t necessarily make you feel better. The researchers surveyed 228 Americans and asked them to remember a time they had done something wrong. The researchers then asked the people whether they had apologized, or made a decision not to apologize even though they knew they were in the wrong.

 They then divided the people at random and asked some to compose an email where they apologized for their actions, or compose an email refusing to apologize.

“We do find that apologies do make apologizers feel better, but the interesting thing is that refusals to apologize also make people feel better and, in fact, in some cases it makes them feel better than an apology would have,” Okimoto said in an interview with NPR. Okimoto said that people who refused to apologize actually ended up with an increased sense of integrity.

In both cases, Okimoto said, refusing to apologize provided psychological benefits. “When you refuse to apologize, it actually makes you feel more empowered,” he said. “That power and control seems to translate into greater feelings of self-worth.”

Anal-Retentive Research

The research reminds me  of Sigmund Freud and his description of the anal stage of development. Freud, the father of psychotherapy (it has no mother), posited that overly controlling parents can lead the child to become an anal-retentive personality.

If the parents tried forcing the child to learn to control their bowel movements, the child may react by asserting their own power. They do this by either deliberately holding or releasing their bowels in a manner most irritating to authority figures.

Substitute bowel movement for apology in this research and you have a good summary of what a silly guide this is for adults. Shame on NPR for covering it so uncritically.

Good Apology Is Satisfying

My research demonstrates over and over again that when you hurt somebody, the most powerful and satisfactory thing you can do to liberate yourself is to apologize. The more complete and undefended the apology, the better you will feel in the long run. The long run is the only run with a future.

That’s because only by acknowledging, naming, and ultimately accepting your mistakes, are you able to embrace your humility and make room for your true self, imperfect and all too human, just like everyone else.

Or you can just hold it in and hold out for a world in which constipation is an attractive quality.


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